an uncomfortable passage
Active. My right foot stamping down upon the brake, both hands gripping the steering wheel and yanking it clockwise, dragging my Maestro across the empty road and careering through the open gate into Park Royal Studio. Cringe, as something mechanical at the fore of the motor emits a loud, grating bark and my mouth stretches into a grimace as I wait for something catastrophic to happen. Meanwhile the motor trundles on, rattling its way across the car park and spluttering to a halt mere inches from a spanking new BMW.Hauling the handbrake on, I tether the motor to the ground, allowing myself a self-satisfied grin at the ease with which I brought the beast to ground.
'Thought you had me didn't ye, ye wretched hunk of machinery.'
'I'll get ye next time ya wee radgin' coont.'
'we'll see' I say, before throwing closed the door and directing myself towards the studio entrance.
Steaming past the bright lights of reception, I begin to search for a personality. Mine would be nice. A Three week leave of absence prompted by a series of unfortunate hallucinogenic experiences over the course of 3 or 4 years, has left my mind somewhat ill-equipped for this, the first job back in the home country. The effect of these antics only now becoming clear as I follow the signs to Stage 3, my heart dragged behind my body like a cold weight as I realize the enormity of the task that another summer spent as a runner signifies. For a couple of strides I can even feel my movements slowing as my mind wills my body to abandon course and strike back towards the motor but sheer momentum alone carries me down the corridor and through the enormous metal doors into the cavernous studio beyond. Shuffling past the assorted crew members towards the breakfast table, I sift through my remaining short-term memory to identify the various film departments that I pass; Lighting, Camera, Sound, Production, Art Department, Assistant Directors, Director, Agency, Clients. Dozens of blinking, cursing, greeting entities, sharing space, breakfast, fags, groans, moans and bitches at a time when any normal human being is having fantastical dreams of space, light and sex.
Unfortunately for me I'm not a normal human being. Not normal or human, but rather some sub-category of species specifically intended to serve my film industry overlords. I am a runner and I'm pissed off. Pissed off about everything too. From the moment the alarm clock started shrieking at five forty five to the moment I rolled out of bed at six, I've been pissed off. Pissed off with being awake, pissed off with being alive, pissed off with the weather, pissed off with being a runner and pissed off with the motor.
So when the production manager happens upon me in the near-vicinity of the breakfast table, it doesn't even take me the time to recognize him before he too joins the list. I know I'm caught straight away of course, but in a manic bid to stall him I fling my hand towards the breakfast rolls attempting to stuff one into my mouth before he can dispatch me on whatever task he's concocted.
'Dean, good morning.'
'Aye, I was just…
'Hold off that roll a second will you, I think we're going to need to send you on a run.'
I look down upon my pale, twitching hand, mere centimeters from a steaming hot bacon roll and then back up towards Glen, the Production Manager.
'Sure, I just…'
My empty hand snaps shut like an irritated oyster and retracts into the folds of my clothing. My body meanwhile jerks into motion behind Glen's retreating carcass and my mind is forced to watch on in disgust as I scamper after Glen.
We round upon the production office, wherein the Producer and Production Assistant are seated amidst a plethora of half-eaten breakfasts and nuclear strength coffee's.
'Okay let me give you some float.'
'Morning' says the Producer.
'Morning' says the Production Assistant.
'rrr' says I.
'all right here's a hundred, now we're going to need some papers for the clients, the usual stuff and maybe get them a USA today or something. Also I think it'd be really nice if we got the director a proper coffee, okay?'
My lips curl into a benign smile whilst my inner being cascades around my cranium, defecating on all notions of nice which I'd spent a lifetime gathering for potential future use.
Moments later and I'm back in the Maestro, spilled out onto the streets of Park Royal, West London at 7:30 in the morning with an implied journey time of approximately 12 minutes. The motor chokes on some ill-digested fuel and belches it out in a thick black cloud, causing me to grin sardonically.
'Enjoying your breakfast'
'Fuck ye smart arse.'
My mind is besotted with hunger and my pampered belly joins in the crusade with a series of gurgling protestations. Oh sure, gang up on myself I think, but there's nowhere open, absolutely nowhere. For a moment I'm hit by a wave of nostalgia for a life that has never been mine, where small insignificant entities can be dispatched to fulfill my every need, where I reign supreme within a world where every man is an island and my island is my bed.
Instead I almost lose my front wing to a 30 foot arctic, whose belching horn awakens me from both my reverie and a near fatal encounter with a steel post. The morning is not going well. It's the Yank's fault. Yank advertising agency, with yank agency executives and yank personalities, inhabiting British studio with yank director, British crew and British runner. Yankee-doodle-dah I hum as the motor rights itself and trauls through the industrial wasteland that is Park Royal, my mind once more focused on the job in hand.
8:15 and I'm walking once more past reception, left hand clasping the best of British broadsheet press with a three week old Newsweek thrown in to excite our colonial overlords and right hand clutching a half empty Styrofoam cup of thick brown, caffeinated liquid, it's toxic remains ebbing over the rim onto my woolen sleeve, leaving me grateful that an unfortunate left turn prompted by an absent road sign had already dispatched the majority of the substance onto the floor of the motor.
Strolling down the corridor towards the studio and I once again consider premature evacuation, but the photographic recall of my most recent bank balance leads my feet ever onwards towards the daunting studio doors. I'm not happy. A recent stocktake of the life satisfaction chart reveals that it's now two years since I left Uni, nine months since I stopped traveling and hit upon the notion of working for a living, two months since I last got laid, eight months if I allow for enjoying it, and just over two hours since my arse was propelled out of bed. Sixteen hundred pound needed in the next month and thirty six pence remaining in my overdraught. I'm so fucking broke I've started to look at the house hacksaw as a potential income generator vis-à-vis the plentiful supply of parking meter's in the area.
Yep as I walk back into the studio I'm feeling something less than peachy.
12:30pm. Four hours of absolute, complete crap. Turns out we're advertising some massive American catalogue company, who with stunning foresight have decided to market themselves solely in relation to the dot in dotcom as a mechanism to emphasize their commitment to Internet business. I'm so fucking happy for them I could cry. We've got wooden dots, metal dots paper dots, spinning dots, all singing-all dancing dots. And all anyone can talk about is these fucking dots, is the lighting good? should it rotate that fast? is that shade of grey sufficiently welcoming to potential customers?
Sufficiently welcoming I wished to investigate by positing one of the larger dots at the entrance to the head advertising creative's posterior at the time but in a remarkable show of calm I smiled my saccharine smile and proffered a coffee, fresh collaborated from the leftover's of two electrician's abandoned beverages. Four hours I've been stood here, four hours since I returned victorious from my Park Royal excursion only to be told that the studio had provided the newspapers and coffee and 'we meant to ring you and tell you but I hope it wasn't too much trouble, did you get some breakfast, hey take five minutes and join us once you've ate' return. Shortly followed by a my-gosh-what-a-surprise-there's-no-breakfast-left-I'm-seriously-considering-eating-the-living-flesh-off-the-director-instead. Four hours of good solid film making fun. It's the glamour that brought me to the industry and it's the glamour that keeps me here.
Come twelve thirty and I'm thinking about the glamorous potential of lunch. In particular the glamorous potential of sinking my teeth into some organic chicken, lightly roasted, served with a barbecue sauce with a selection of vegetables, followed by chocolate gateau and custard with perhaps a second visit to the salad bar just to make sure I didn't miss any particularly savoury savories. Lunch, lunch, lunch. Producer has a different idea and come the allotted time I'm scheduled to 'set watch.' State of mind carefully nurtured by 25 years of selective living disintegrates upon watching the various film departments file out to lunch, all jovial commonality as the prospect of food unites the crew for the first time that day. Finally the runt of the art department is away and I share the set with no one.
Within me the dark beast howls.
Frantically I set about the studio, my mind filled with notions of opportunist and wanton acts of destruction, but my hearts not in it. Instead I stumble upon a recent copy of 'Hello' and satiate myself by looking for cheap totty. Hello, hello. If ever there was a guaranteed presence on a film set this magazine would be it, for few things offer such good sport to crew members as dissecting the private lives of all the celebrities they've worked with and dishing the goss to anyone who cares to listen.. So it is that I've been informed with great confidence that an emotional female Oscar winner of the not-too distant past was discovered by a runner on a British film with her mouth tightly wrapped around a member of Yankee doodle origins, whilst in a similar vein, another girl who starred in a long running British children's TV show in the seventies is somewhat prone to sexual acts of the extremely damp variety, that the Duchess of York was chosen as a bride because she was the least acceptable choice provided to a rebellious Andrew by the Royal Household, that during the filming of Titanic one individual felt so on top of the world that he took it upon himself to dip his wick into the gigantic water pool and relieve himself in the manner accustomed to infants everywhere, that muscular men from Brussels consume their own body weight in coke each year to satiate their small stature's and fragile ego's, that a young sound recordist attaching a radio transmitter to the leg of a leading British film actress got rather more than he bargained for…the list goes on and on…
Like moths to candle light, so are crew members to the magazine and I'd like to say it was just the girls, the makeup artists, wardrobe ladies, production assistants but we're all there casting a discrete glance around to check that no one's watching, before reaching down with out little sweaty mits and pouring through the glossy, ink saturated pages with an air of contemptuous sophistication. But it's all lies, lies, lies…make-up girl becomes actress, wardrobe girl becomes model, runner becomes director, sound guy becomes d.j. Producer becomes pimp, director becomes actor and actor becomes star.. Our poor delicate ego's staring up at the great pyramid of havegots, lowering our guillotine judgment's down upon them. Not me though. No I have my own agenda, a far loftier take on the whole affair, I just want to look at a nice pair of tits…maybe some arse and sat here alone, with the crew so recently dispatched to lunch, I kick up my feet, lower myself into the director's chair and turn each glossy page with glee.
I've just reached Tamara Beckwith when I sense a disturbance in the force. Someone is out there looking for me, I can feel them in the darkened recesses of the studio shuffling towards me. Instantly I leap from the chair and psuedo-nonchalantly edge my way behind a huge piece of polystyrene deflector. At the same time Glen emerges from shadow and casting his eyes this way and that, strides purposefully past my hiding place towards the far end of the studio. I lower my hand to my hip where a Motorola 300 radio is holstered onto my belt and quietly as I can I turn down the volume, lest Glen attempt to call me on it. Sure enough just moments later I hear my name being bellowed from the far end of the studio. With my back to the wall and the forces of darkness descending on me thus, I do the only thing I can think of and bugger off, scampering towards the exit furthest away from Glen. I don't stop running until I'm stood at the catering truck, gesturing wildly towards the chicken dish, much to the amusement of Howard, the caterer.
'Chicken please, the chicken dish, chicken, chicken, chicken.'
'You want broccoli?'
'Yep full monty please'
'how about carrots?'
'full monty, everything, ship it in, pile it on.'
'…by the kilo..'
'there you go mate, enjoy'
And that's it I've done it, possession being nine tenths of the law I'm clear, I'm free, because you NEVER ask someone to abandon their food on set. Before or after fine and dandy, but never during. I mosie back to set, nodding and grinning at the various crew members that I pass to signify my inclusion in the havegots of the crew lunch world. I'm already gnawing at the chicken when I once more arrive at set and come upon a rather flustered looking Glen emerging from the entrance way.
'I've been looking for you, how come you weren't on set watch.'
'The art department were back, one of them said he'd watch over things.' I lie.
'Is your radio on?'
'Sure…Oh look it's down pretty low'
'Well anyway, I'm going to need you to go on a run.'
'Be my pleasure, I'll just finish my lunch then I'll be right off…'
Glen opens his mouth to contradict me but stops dead. I for my part have deposited a good size slab of chicken into my mouth and stare him down like a Rottweiler with a lambchop.
'Come see me as soon as you're done, it's very urgent.'
'No worries sport.'
Glen shuffles away and I plonk myself down on one of the camera boxes and begin picking at my lunch with exaggerated delicacy.
When I next find myself in the motor, lunch is a receding memory and the chocolate gateau and custard desert is battling valiantly for its continued existence amongst my digestive juices. I shuffle awkwardly in my seat, hoping to dislodge some of the unfortunate substance but Howard's gateau has a chemical composition not unlike lava and nothing is going to move it until it's good and ready. Glancing over at me from the adjacent seat, the director gives me a mildly distasteful glance. I cast him a shrug and level my eyes on the traffic in front of me but make a mental note to expel gas at the earliest possible opportunity. Fucking directors.
The motor isn't happy either, it really hates directors. It's a runner's motor after all, equipped with all manner of Styrofoam cups, bottles of water, coffee jars, tea bags, abandoned callsheets, 3 month old stains, two week old breakfasts, it's got a reputation to protect and in the manner of working vehicles everywhere it takes its pedigree quite seriously. Said director remains somewhat oblivious to the level of animosity bounding around the upholstery but its clear that he's not feeling comfortable, a state of mind not alleviated by my chosen driving style. A techinique owing its origins to the noble Japanese tradition of Kamikaze, a one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on the gear stick, one foot firmly planted on the accelerator shuttle of fear. Weaving amongst the mechanical detritus of Park Royal with all the nonchalance of a butterfly on a summers day. I fly around a corner, flinging themotor into the outside lane to avoid colliding with a stationery lorry and then swerving it around a small cluster of potential road-crossers before calmly bringing the beast to a halt at the A40 traffic lights. The sudden decrease in momentum whips both me and the director to the fore of our seats before the g-force subsides and we sink back down and finally the build up of gas in my bowels is allowed a slow, steady expulsion. For the first time that day, I feel truly satisfied.
Back at the studio several hours later, the majority of the film crew is wrapped and I'm about to take receipt of the rushes, the small stack of film canisters which represent the entire days worth of filming, when Glen sidles up to me with a somewhat anxious expression fixed upon his chops.
'Okay so you know where you're taking these right?'
'Oh aye, Soho images, the usual'
'And you know how to get there.'
'And you'll drive safe right.'
'The only way that I know.'
'Okay, well thanks for today, I'll l be sure to give you a call when the next job comes in.'
'Mate, it's been my pleasure' I say before traipsing out to my car, flinging the canisters onto the backseat, and patting the motor on its dirty little dashboard head and announcing
'home, James and don't spare the horses'
'too fucking right.'
And we're away…